“Surprised about the result? You shouldn’t be. The EU has recently lived multiple crises, financial and economic, the refugees’ crisis, following contested debates on austerity programmes, and the Greek referendum. That has been a turning point in the EU. But the call for a new leadership in order to tackle the challenges has remained unanswered.
“The referendum campaign in the UK unfolded with a massive and nasty narrative on the EU. Reading the cover of a newspaper close to UKIP in the days leading to the referendum can offer just a partial view: ‘Britain ‘has too many’ migrants’; Germany push for EU army’; ‘EU opens door to 79m from Turkey’; ‘Britain faces migrant chaos’; ‘Britain’s 1.5 million hidden migrants’; ‘Soaring cost of teaching migrant children’; ‘Migrants cost Britain £17bn a year’; ‘Migrant worker numbers surge’; ‘EU migrant numbers soar yet again’; ‘Migrants pay just £100 to invade Britain’; ‘The invaders’ (in capital letters); ‘‘Cover-up’ over migrants sneaking into UK’; ‘Migrant sized every 6 minutes’; ‘Proof we can’t stop migrants’; ‘EU ‘very bad’ for pensions’. The EU was never presented as a fact, but as a caricature or in the words that were seeking to disprove that caricature.
“The UK has always maintained a special relationship with the EU, in terms of policy areas, being the member state with the highest number of opt-outs, but also looking at public attitudes, in particular in England. As cited by a colleague, Jeremy Paxman well pitched this relationship, ‘England remained the only European country in which apparently intellectual people can use expressions like ’joining Europe was a mistake’
or ‘we should leave Europe’ as if the place can be hitched to the back of a car like a holiday caravan.’ And now the car has left without the caravan.
“The referendum campaign further polarised the EU narrative in the country. The salience of Euroscepticism has arisen and shifted its position from the margins to the mainstream of domestic politics. It shows, as suggested by John FitzGibbon, ‘pro-systemic opposition’ to the EU integration process, an alternative answer to the referendum question that would have probably gathered a few votes. The debate on the EU is complex, but is consistent and rational. Voting Leave did not answer any of these complexities, but left a country divided.”
This post originally appeared here: https://www2.le.ac.uk/news/blog/2016-archive/june/university-reaction-to-brexit-result
Simona Guerra, a joint coordinator of the CRN, is a senior lecturer in Politics at the
University of Leicester.